Cat brains are smaller than dog brains – discuss!

Cat brains are smaller than dog brains – discuss!

by Michael
(London, UK)

Princess is intelligent - Photo by Hélène Villeneuve (Flickr)

Princess is intelligent - Photo by Hélène Villeneuve (Flickr)

Cat brains are smaller than dog brains because cats are solitary animals and dogs are social animals. The social interaction between dogs over millions of years created this difference.

It is said that cats have less sophisticated brains than dogs. The research was carried out by scientists at the University of Oxford. They also say that members of the dog family are good at problem solving - better than cats. I have not seen the original research document so the conclusions as written up in newspapers may not be completely accurate. This article is a bit of gossip about the conclusions of this study - my instant and biased thoughts, no more.

The study begs some questions. We know that there are different types of intelligence. Pure problem solving is not the only kind. We don't hear of dogs foretelling the death of a hospital patient and then comforting the patient, for example. I am not sure if the study measured intelligence in a complete way and went beyond brain size and problem solving abilities.

There is also the intriguing possibility that even if the research is accurate things will change over the next millions of years. The domestic cat is adaptable and now lives with and interacts with his or her human companion. The human is the most intelligent animal on the planet. Surely with millions of years of socialisation between cat and human the cat will become more intelligent.

In millions of years time, it is quite possible to imagine human and cat finding a common language and communicating in a more complete and accurate way. If that happened things would dramatically speed up. Of course the dog should also become more intelligent but the dog takes commands unthinkingly. The domestic cat thinks about it and then does what he or she wants to do. Perhaps this attitude will develop into a more questioning approach from the cat and that too will speed up the development of the cat's brain.

What I am saying in defence of the cat is that the study may have got things wrong and even if it is right the cat will catch up in time!

It is also worth making the point that there is a fairly wide spectrum of intelligence between the cat breeds. The more active wildcat hybrids are known to be more intelligent than the passive, relatively uninquisitive Persians, for example. Did the study compare the brains of wild cat to wild dog or domestic cat and dog? There would seem to be a difference. The wild cat has to use its brain more than a domestic cat. This is what makes it more intelligent and the wildcat hybrids are more intelligent than the wholly domestic cat breeds and moggies. I would suspect that the wild cat is as intelligent as the wild dog and in any case we have to mention the lion.

The lion lives in prides. It socialises with other lions. If, as stated, socialisation creates larger brains over millions of years, surely the lion must have the biggest brain of all the cats as it is the only cat that lives in groups except for feral cats who have adapted to this social way of life when there is a food source that feeds the group. However, I have seen nothing to support the notion that the lion is more intelligent than the solitary tiger. Indeed the general view is that the tiger fights smarter than the lion.

For me, the study raises some questions but I suspect that the original research document addresses some of these. It is interesting to speculate nonetheless. One last interesting point, research indicates that intelligent people prefer domestic cats to dogs. A million years of interaction with intelligent people will do the cat no harm in respect of brain size, I say.

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Cat brains are smaller than dog brains - discuss!

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Dec 04, 2010
Scientists can be bird brains
by: George

My first reaction to this post is that the scientific study cited is without merit. Probably the model for intelligence used is human intelligence, which would mean the findings are anthropomorphic, thus negating everything said.

For starters, just what human intelligence is remains highly debatable. Science still knows little about the human brain. And human intelligence, as measured by intelligence quotient (IQ) testing, has been shown to include racial and cultural biases.

But it seems to me that brain size means little in terms of intelligence. It may be the case that cranial space or volume is meaningless and what matters is the chemical composition of the gray matter, no matter what the size.

For example, studies have shown that certain bird species can perform tasks or solve problems with the best of the other species.

One study I remember reading tasked some Ravens with fishing a morsel of nut meat out of a tube. The birds devised short sticks that they used to pry the food out of the tube. (And the individual birds protected their tools from being stolen by other birds in the study.) This shows a level of creative tool making that would shame a chimpanzee. How small is a bird's brain?

A flock of Crows, reportedly, were observed in the wild placing hard shelled walnuts on a high traffic road, retreating then to a nearby telephone pole while waiting for cars to run over them. They would then fly down to the road and retrieve the nut meats.

And we have all observed the amazing skills of spiders at weaving complex webs. How big is a spider's brain? (Actually, spiders have a "distributed" nervous system which means their whole body is, in a sense, their brain.)

So, it's my assumption that size means nothing. And we must be careful to not try to apply our ill-formed notions of human intelligence to an analysis of intelligence in other life forms, whether cat, dog, spider, insect, plants, microbes, or extra-terrestrials.

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